Traveling with difficult (understatement) people (your children)

July 31, 2013

I’ve never fully explained to you the depths my insanity can reach while traveling with children. You see, I get….well, I get worked up. (Understatement.) It’s not that I freak out on my kids or even (that much) on my husband. It’s more like I’m boiling some sort of anxiety soup within my very soul and therefore I grasp the door handle or OH SH*T handle and turn my knuckles white and hardly breathe.

Or something like that.

That is, unless I keep myself in check. (Read: Am reminded by my dear husband that

You see, all three of our kids were horrible….I mean, extremely horrible travelers as newborns and infants. I think I have PTTD (Post Traumatic Travel Disorder). I sincerely thought we might never ever go anywhere beyond 100 miles in our lives ever again ever.

Then I learned (thanks to how hard it was) to chill out. A little. I learned that all I can do is prepare myself and the children for somewhat of a miserable experience and take deep breaths. I resigned myself to being overly organized and winging it a little. I set aside my perfectionistic tendencies in exchange to acceptance and surrender. In other words, I give my kids a lot of treats and screen time on trips.

Now, before you leave mean comments, please know that I still shoot for moderation, and it’s still really important to us to travel the “old-fashioned” way. We play Eye Spy (I Spy?) and our kids color and we listen to music and sing along. We chair dance. We tell stories. Our kids are still interested in our old stories, so we tell them. This is one of the most important things to me, taking the opportunity of enclosed spaces like minivans and airplanes to share who I am with my children. It’s now or never, I figure. They’ll grow older and start the eye-rolling and disinterest. For now, they’re a riveted audience.

Screenshot 2013-07-31 at 8.53.36 AM


In my humble opinion, traveling is really important and holding back on taking trips because it’s going to be hard was the name of the game for me in the past. Now I’m learning that we can’t get to the good stuff without the hard stuff, in pretty much every aspect of life. So we go, we take day trips and we weather the I have to go potty I’m thirsty wah wah scream fight over-tired over-sugared storms. We get there. We just hold on and get there.

Here are some ways we’ve learned to get through:

Everything in moderation except in desperation: If your child will be quieter on the plane with a screen and a sucker, give it to them. I’m generally (not shockingly) a bit uptight about screen time and sugar. Not while traveling. Like I said, we do our best to go without these things, but when the rubber meets the road (pun intended) one must cope. Say to yourself, It won’t always be this way and carry on, trooper. DEEP BREATH. In short, lower your expectations. Of yourself and you kids. Routine and moderation are waiting, back at home.

Screenshot 2013-07-31 at 8.45.09 AM



If you have high maintenance travelers, Pinterest suggestions might not help. When we traveled to Austin for our move, I prepared all kinds of things I found on Pinterest. These were great idea and they might even work for a more low-key kiddo. But as for me and my toddler, I basically wasted my time and money. I bought cute little tiny toys to put in containers for Elsie Jane to peek in and move around and open and close and that lasted about five seconds. She’s Elsie. She just simply MUST be in motion and doesn’t last long with anything ever. Once again, it was all about deep breaths and candy with that girl.

Take all the pictures of all the things. Today our screens are almost always in front of our faces on adventures. People talk about how ridiculous this is, and yes, it can be….BUT, I want to advocate for giving yourself a free pass when you travel. These adventures are intense and overwhelming and it’s hard to remember how it all was clearly, especially years later. So go ahead, take pictures, Instagrams, etc. Make them artful and bring yourself back to the experience for years. You are not hiding, you are still there. You are documenting.

Screenshot 2013-07-31 at 8.55.56 AM


Make use of the car seat outside of the car. At airports, toddlers are hard, yo. When we have long waits and long walks to gates, it really helps to have Elsie strapped in. (This is where I also suggest a baby-wearing carrier that last through toddlerhood. Elsie will finally give in and sleep if I walk up and down the airport hallways with her strapped tightly to my chest.) When traveling to Austin, I bought a strap that attaches the car seat to luggage and allows you to buckle your baby in and wheel them along with your suitcase. You have more hands and the baby/toddler gets a ride. Then, when Elsie was incapable of staying near us at our gate, I put her seat up on a chair and buckled her in. This is where she ate lunch. And stayed with us rather than hopping a flight to Japan.

Screenshot 2013-07-31 at 8.52.25 AM


Remember that this is what it’s all about.  Traveling with kids, whether it be a road trip or a flight across the globe has its extremes, but that is exactly why acceptance is key. These ups and downs are the stuff of life and memories. The pain and joy of family life in the daily grind or on an adventure bring the rewards of bonding over car sickness, sleepless nights in hotels, surprising unforgettable moments and seeing the world, together. There is nothing like traveling to remind you that families are for belonging. We stick together, we get through hard things and there are always rewards because in the end, we’re crazy about each other. (Even our siblings, who have the gall to CROSS THE LINE in the back seat of the trashed minivan.)


tracy@sellabitmum July 31, 2013 at 9:57 am

My kids = weird. I’m writing a similar article, yet completely different. I love yous so much. xoxoxo
tracy@sellabitmum recently posted..Marathon Parenting

Kristin Shaw (Two Cannoli) July 31, 2013 at 10:34 am

I just traveled for 6 hours in 2 planes with my almost-4-year-old. And while he is generally an excellent traveler, it is EXHAUSTING. I was wishing for a screen that I didn’t have yesterday. :)
Kristin Shaw (Two Cannoli) recently posted..Stuck in Someday

Leslie July 31, 2013 at 12:29 pm

It does get easier as they get older, but I completely advocate allowing extra screen time and treats for travel. Moderation, and whatever it takes for peace! When I was a child, we took many long road trips in an Oldsmobile with tiny stripes in the back seat upholstery. My brother and I counted the stripes (hundreds of them!) and allocated ourselves a huge section of stripes each and gave my youngest brother a tiny little section of his stripes. The chaos that ensued any time someone touched someone else’s stripes and the yells of “he’s on my side!” almost forced my parents to abandon us on the side of the road. :o)
Leslie recently posted..Toe Jam Sauce and Rat Tails: Our Fish Camp Dinner

Candice July 31, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I just can’t get over that picture of your wee girl, in her footie jammies, strapped into the car seat. Cuteness! We’re embarking on a massive road trip next week with our two year old – so good to read your ideas. Wish me luck!

Martha July 31, 2013 at 2:15 pm

My daughter is a pretty good traveler now, at 5. Last year we drove to the northeast, Michigan, NY, DC, and back. We drove mostly at night. Toy laptop and streaming videos on the phone for the awake time was a big help.

I too, am not at all uptight about screen time or sugar. I am going stockpile suckers for our next road trip!

Don July 31, 2013 at 4:45 pm

I understand. I relate. I remember. (Our 4 kids are now 24 and up in age.) We drove from Quebec to Saskatchewan (and back) in 1994. We had done it 4 years earlier too. It is not easy.
But you are fricking hilarious. the understatement of the first paragraph followed by “I sincerely thought we might never ever go anywhere beyond 100 miles in our lives ever again ever.” Priceless. And I note that the sugar is not just for the kids. (Big smile.) Congratulations; you have survived and you will survive. Thank you for brightening my day.

Lynda M O August 1, 2013 at 1:49 am

Suckers will get us thru times of travel like no other treat, won’t they !~! I love Tootsie Roll Pops more than I luv most other things.
Lynda M O recently posted..Weaving is Going Great…

Nina August 1, 2013 at 3:25 pm

We are the most ungraceful travelers EVER. I’m glad my parents live in Chicago so we can just drive. I do use suckers! They are KEY for some quiet. LOVE that picture of the carseat use in the airport. You’re a genius and it’s just such a great shot.
Nina recently posted..Controlling My iPhone Time Once and For All

Cheryl August 1, 2013 at 8:24 pm

We took a 3yo to Paris. It was my in-laws, who met in Paris, life-long dream, and the timing was sort of now-or-never, as my MIL has Parkinson’s.

It was a really tough trip, but I’m so glad we did it.

To follow up, we are taking the kids, now almost 10 and 6, for a two week trip to Israel. My husband and I have never taken a two week trip anywhere. We’ve been told to ply our children with ice cream at every turn, and I’m trying to get excited about it. Screens will probably help too. But hopefully, the trip itself is also worthwhile.
Cheryl recently posted..Debunking BlogHer Myths

Naptimewriting August 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Traveling with my children has always made me rage-y and weepy. And we plan trips via car or plane or train and we just do our best.

We schedule the long stretches for nap time and hope there’s a nap. We schedule lots of stops and books and toys and snacks. Oh, dear the snacks.

And we make sure every trip lasts at least four days, because the travel itself is so hellish that we need time to cool down before getting back into travel mode.

That said, it gets easier each year. 10 months to 4 years is the hardest stretch for anything, so I don’t see why travel should be an exception.

Makes me grateful for solo trips. Even to the grocery store. It’s sooooo easy to get myself into a car and go somewhere, traffic or not, flight delay or not, bad weather or not.

For everything else, there are lollypops.
Naptimewriting recently posted..Too tired to think

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: